Living Life with God's Irrepressible Joy
We’ve done our due diligence, and studied the background of this wonderful letter. We know who wrote it and who received it. Now it’s time to start taking a look at what was actually written in this important letter that has stood the test of time. So let’s jump right in!
Immediately following the opening greeting, Paul writes:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
This is the first mention of our theme word joy, and it is used in the context of prayer. Paul is extremely grateful every time he remembers the Philippians, and he makes his prayers for them with joy. Why? Because they partnered with him in the gospel and did not waver in their faith. Even in the face of Gnosticism and when many other churches stumbled, the saints at Philippi stood firm.
In fact, this is the only letter Paul wrote to a church that wasn’t sent to correct doctrinal problems or settle big issues. Rather, Paul sent this letter out for general encouragement and as a message of love. He was open in this letter, and shared his heart and internal struggle with his imprisonment. Interestingly, Philippians is the only place Paul shares his struggle and desire to depart and be with Christ rather than stay in this world.
So what place did the Philippians have in Paul’s life? Why did he share one of his deepest desires with them and not the Ephesians per say?
Obviously, Paul was very close to the Philippians. Though he wasn’t with them very long, these believers touched and encouraged his heart. They had spiritual maturity during a time when fledgling churches were easily deceived by false teachers.
The Philippians’ love for Paul was also great, since they sent one of their own members all the way to Rome to deliver a love offering. That was no easy journey! But that love offering was a huge blessing to Paul, and a big encouragement during a season of trial. It reminded him of their love and brought to mind how greatly he yearned for them also. And since he could not visit them in person, he did the second best thing available to him in the 1st century world. He wrote a letter. A letter reminding them of the amazing hope that they had. A letter sharing his trials and God’s plan. And a letter imparting to them the invaluable lesson that joy is born from suffering and self-sacrifice.
This is the lesson that we’ve set out to more fully grasp. So as we jump into Philippians, remember that though this letter was written to a beloved congregation at Philippi, it was also written to us. For even though Paul was thinking of the Philippians, God had a wider audience in mind. Nevertheless, I’m sure the pastor’s heart in Paul would be pleased to see that countless Christians have found encouragement in this little letter of love. And I’m positive that if Paul knew we were reading his letter, he would hold the same love and affection for us as he had for the Philippians.
Truly this is a letter from Paul with love.